Auriemma's streak speak
Huskies have won 55 straight -- but how much longer can they keep it going?
STORRS, Conn. -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma estimated that the viewers who tune in for Saturday night's game (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) between the No. 1 Huskies and No. 3 Notre Dame will be split. He said half would be rooting for UConn to be upset and half would be pulling for the team to maintain its 55-game winning streak.
There was a brief pause from us reporters. Then someone said, "Um, really? Isn't it more like "
"OK, 90-10," Auriemma said. "I was trying to be nice. Ninety percent of the people want us to lose, and 10 percent want us to win."
Even that might be pushing it. Maybe 95-5? UConn faithful, as always, will be cheering like mad for their Huskies, whose last loss was to Stanford in the 2008 Final Four semifinals. (UConn went 39-0 en route to the program's sixth national title this past April and is 16-0 this season.)
Pretty much all other fans -- and those viewers who normally don't tune in much to women's hoops but will because it's an "ESPN GameDay" production -- will be "green" on Saturday.
Not because everyone just dislikes UConn. Rather, it's because the Huskies have lost twice in their past 93 games -- the other team to beat them in 2008 was Rutgers, by two points -- and appear like a runaway locomotive heading for their second consecutive NCAA title.
If you like watching outstanding, well-executed, no-excuses basketball, you should love UConn. But, understandably, unless you're a Huskies fan, surely you're tired of seeing the "overdogs" dominate.
Which is OK by Auriemma. He has always preferred having a target on his back rather than shooting for a target. He would want to be Goliath, not David. He has no interest in poor-mouthing or underselling his team.
That said, he added, somewhat obtusely, that with each victory, UConn has to be getting closer to a loss. He might not actually believe that, but the fatalist in him makes him think it must be true. It's not as if he's going to win every subsequent game he coaches. Or is he?
He would dismiss such talk. Never mind that 55 games isn't even his longest streak. His program also holds the NCAA women's record mark of 70 in a row, which was snapped by Villanova in 2003. (Not that it prevented the Huskies from winning the NCAA title that year; in fact, many think it actually refocused them and helped them win it all.)
Despite having once won 70 straight, Auriemma says he "can't fathom" winning 88 in a row the way UCLA's men did -- a streak that was ended, quite famously, by Notre Dame on Jan. 19, 1974.
Auriemma isn't really superstitious as much as he's someone who is well-versed enough in sports history to see the many so-called "signs" of a possible upset Saturday. Consider: It's a Notre Dame team poised to end a very long winning streak. It's within three days of being 36 years to the day of the Bruins men's streak expiring. And look who's here in Storrs: the guy who was on the sideline directing the Irish when they beat UCLA: Digger Phelps, part of the GameDay crew.
Auriemma said Phelps gave him a marker to carry with him everywhere to sign autographs.
"It has 'Digger Phelps' on it; it's his autograph pen," Auriemma said. "So now I'm going to sign 'Digger Phelps' every time somebody asks me for an autograph."
Phelps, walking along a concourse in Gampel Pavilion and seeing Auriemma holding court with reporters, called down to him, "Don't you bad-mouth me!"
To which Auriemma responded, "Too late!"
Then Auriemma said, "He gave me the rundown of every possession of that UCLA game when they beat them. I'm thinking, 'How can he remember that stuff?' I remember games, but I don't remember possession by possession."
Auriemma also complimented Irish women's coach Muffet McGraw on the players she brings in, such as star freshman Skylar Diggins, and the way she coaches them.
"I enjoy being in her company, too. We talk a lot," Auriemma said. "The only thing wrong with Muffet is her husband, Matt. He'll come wearing a green jacket. I think he wishes he could be the Leprechaun."
Now, you have to understand all of this is Auriemma totally goofing around: talking about the upset potential, making fun of Phelps and Matt McGraw. He loves having the GameDay spotlight and getting to show off his team in a prime-time game with Dick Vitale on board for commentary.
Auriemma was jovial and happy Friday, and why shouldn't he be? His team is 16-0. He has what most people believe to be the two best players in women's college hoops, Tina Charles and Maya Moore. It was announced that UConn has a series set up for the next two seasons with Baylor. Auriemma has a lot to feel good about.
Are there things that worry him? Of course. He knows that if both Moore and Charles get into foul trouble, the Huskies could be scrambling. He knows winning is never, ever as easy as his team seems to make it look.
UConn has faced some minor "challenges" this season. Stanford led the Huskies by two points at halftime of their Dec. 23 meeting. Five days later, Florida State trailed by just six points at the break. When you're beating your foes by an average of 41 points the way UConn is, any "threat" is welcome because it's rather exciting. Invigorating. Stimulating.
Of course, the Huskies beat Stanford by 12 points and Florida State by 19, but still there was some buzz felt by the Huskies because they got a little adrenaline boost. Notre Dame comes into Saturday's game at 15-0 and at least sounding confident about wanting to compete with UConn.
"You need games like this," Auriemma said. "I've told our players [this] could be one of those games where we need to play our absolute best game, just in case they do. Because if they play their A-game and we don't, they're going to beat us. [The players] know what's up, they know who's good.
"Notre Dame's like us in some respects. They recruit good offensive players, and she's a good coach."
So back to that bit about knowing that the Huskies must, inevitably, lose some time. All streaks eventually end. Auriemma can talk about it without sounding worried about it. And it's OK by him if 90, or 95, or even 99 percent of the viewers are rooting for the Huskies to fall.
"It's going to come," Auriemma said. "It may be [Saturday]. It might be next week. It might be next year. We can't dwell on that.
"I don't know when it's going to come, but I do know there's going to be an awful lot of happy people when it does come."
Maybe but, frankly, few are expecting the run to end soon. Furthermore, whenever it does happen, don't be surprised if UConn bounces back and just starts another streak.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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